WHO hails 'encouraging' virus vaccine news

WHO hails 'encouraging' virus vaccine news

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — Reported breakthroughs in COVID-19 vaccine research are “encouraging”, the World Health Organization's (WHO) chief said yesterday, but voiced concern about surging cases and warned against complacency.

“We continue to receive encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press briefing.

Tedros, who has just spent more than two weeks in quarantine after coming in contact with someone with COVID-19, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that new tools would start to arrive in the coming months.

But he added: “This is no time for complacency.”

His comments came as trials of a second candidate vaccine suggested it was nearly 95 per cent effective against the virus.

The news from US biotech firm Moderna followed similar interim results last week for Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate vaccine.

But the WHO has warned that widespread availability of any vaccine remains a long way off, and COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging in many parts of the world.

“Those countries that are letting the virus run unchecked are playing with fire,” he said.

He voiced particular alarm about the situation in Europe and the Americas, where he said health workers and systems were being pushed to breaking point.

“A laissez-faire attitude to the virus...leads to death, suffering and hurts livelihoods and economies,” he said.

“The quickest way to open up economies is to defeat the virus.”

The UN agency's headquarters is experiencing its own outbreak of novel coronavirus, with Ghebreyesus spending 17 days in quarantine — though he said he had not developed any symptoms.

Five new cases within the same WHO team have been registered in the past week, WHO official Maria Van Kerkhove said.

“We don't know if there is an actual cluster,” she said, adding that experts were trying to work out if transmission had happened on the premises.

WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan stressed that the Geneva region is experiencing “some of the most intense transmission in the world right now”.

“We are human beings and we live within a society,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the United States yesterday, US President-elect Joe Biden expressed frustration over Donald Trump's refusal to cooperate on the White House transition process, saying “more people may die” of novel coronavirus without immediate coordination on fighting the surging pandemic.

Biden was declared winner of the November 3 election but Trump has not conceded, and his Administration has so far failed to formally acknowledge the veteran Democrat as the president-elect.

That leaves Biden and his team unable to coordinate with government officials on crucial continuity of issues, like national security, but also on emergencies like a distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines to tens of millions of Americans.

Biden was asked at a press conference about the greatest threat from Trump's obstruction of a smooth transfer of power and he responded that “more people may die if we don't coordinate” on distributing vaccines as quickly as possible.

“If we have to wait until [inauguration day] January 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind for a month, a month and a half,” Biden told reporters in his home town of Wilmington in Delaware.

“And so it's important that it be done, that there be coordination now.”

Several experts, including former Trump Administration officials, have warned that the outgoing president's refusal to cooperate on the transition while he challenges election results in court could have devastating consequences as the nation grapples with COVID-19 spikes.

The United States added one million new cases in less than a week, a dizzying rise to more than 11 million confirmed infections and 246,000 American deaths, a global high.

Trump health advisor Scott Atlas, who has no relevant experience or qualifications in public health or infectious disease, has urged people in Michigan to “rise up” against COVID-19 measures rather than engage in an all-hands-on-deck effort to defeat the pandemic.

“What the hell is the matter with these guys?” Biden said. “It's totally irresponsible.”

Biden said he himself would take the vaccine developed by Moderna, or another being developed by Pfizer, if experts like top immunologist Anthony Fauci declared them safe.

“I wouldn't hesitate to get the vaccine if, in fact, Dr Fauci and these two organisations — whether it's Moderna or Pfizer, who have been extremely responsible — conclude that it is safe and able to be done,” Biden said.

“The only reason people question the vaccine now is because of Donald Trump,” added Biden, who turns 78 on Friday.

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